You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Books- fiction’ category.

Oops, I seem to be falling a little behind in my reviews. The book I’m focusing on today is one that I finished a couple of weeks ago, but don’t think I haven’t gotten around to it because it’s not good. The book, One Day, by David Nicholls, is one of the most original books I’ve read in a while.

The premise is pretty simple: each chapter is one day in the lives of the two main characters, Dexter and Emma. The chapters take place on the same day, July 15, but each chapter takes place on the next successive year of their lives, beginning when they are fresh out of college. As you can probably guess by the fact that there are a male and female lead and it focuses intensely on their lives and relationship, it is somewhat of a love story. But it’s not a sappy, saccharine-drenched romance; One Day is brutally honest about feelings and missed chances, suppressed longings and things unsaid.

For most of the book, the two main characters are not actually in love. The plot hovers on their relationship with each other briefly in each chapter, but also on their relationships– intimate, friendly, and familial– with the other people in their lives. Nicholls writes about the problems they face, such as alcoholism, loneliness, and grief in an unflinching voice. I appreciated how candidly these issues were discussed and how realistic the characters’ struggles were. The challenges that they face in the novel are unexpected and sometimes brutal, which I found to be very true to life.

The back of the book says something along the lines of as the true meaning of this one day is revealed… and so of course I found myself wondering throughout the majority of the novel what the significance of the day truly was. My guess from the beginning, that he had accidentally gotten her pregnant and they had a child together whom she gave up for adoption, wasn’t even close to what it really was. I won’t spoil it because I feel that the unpredictability of the novel is at the heart of its interest. While I was a bit distracted trying to take a stab at the meaning of July 15, I found this novel very engaging. I really got sucked into the characters’ lives, and I rooted for Emma in particular since she came from humble beginnings and worked her way to a successful life. I laughed, I cringed, I cried, and I feel like I want to just call up these characters for a chat now.

Bottom line: Both heart-breaking and life-affirming. Solid.

P.S.- It’s after midnight right now, so it’s officially my birthday! 😀  Here’s to another great year of reading!

Advertisements

I’ve always been a fan of postcards. I love to travel, and ever since I was young I’ve enjoyed picking up postcards when I visit a new place. I also ask friends to send me postcards when they go on vacation. In the past couple of years, I’ve taken this hobby to new heights, joining the website Postcrossing and exchanging cards with people around the world. I’ve received over 100 cards through the website and I still get a thrill every time one arrives in my mail box. So I was naturally drawn to the title of this book, Postcards from a Dead Girl, by Kirk Farber. Adding to my delight of finding a fiction book that even mentions postcards was the fact that there is something spooky about it– perfect for this time of year, don’t you think?

The main character, Sid, has been receiving postcards from exotic locations from his old girlfriend. The catch is that she’s either deceased or missing- Sid is not clear on this for the majority of the novel. Sid, understandably, gets more and more upset about receiving these postcards, until they turn into an obsession for him and he decides to try to get to the bottom of the mystery in various ways, including befriending a postal worker in his neighborhood and traveling to some of the places the postcards have come from. Along the way, though, we begin to realize that Sid isn’t the most reliable narrator, and he has a myriad of quirks and what some might call flaws. He allows his obsession to run him into deep credit card debt, and he loses all motivation to work at his telemarketing job– which I can definitely relate to, working as a temp in a call center myself these days.

We also see that things in Sid’s life are not what they at first appear to be. The character of the postman is especially symbolic of this, evident both by Sid’s surprise at seeing him not in his postal uniform and in that he has an underground bomb-shelter-cum-library. Sid also begins to slide down the deep end as he becomes obsessed with digging a mudbath spa for himself in his back yard.

The book reads like an independent film. It’s chopped into many very short chapters, which has the effect of presenting Sid’s life and the plot in snippets that can be at time disorienting. It’s a perfect strategy for this strange tale, and just adds to the mystery of the postcards and the deeper, darker elements of Sid’s life that lie beneath the surface plot. Comments about mental illness and institutionalization flicker in Sid’s commentary more and more, particularly in his interactions with his sister. Sid’s past and the true significance of his old girlfriend are forcefully shoved in his and the reader’s face towards the closing of the novel, and you feel as though you’ve been shoved from a dark room into the blinding daylight and are told to just deal with it. The moment of revelation puts a jarring twist on the plot and makes you look back at the rest of the story in a new light. It’s been a while since I’ve read a story with a shock at the end, and though it wasn’t entirely unexpected in this book, I really enjoyed it and found it to be very fitting.

Bottom line: A quick read, but pretty darn good. I expect a movie to be made out of this. Well done.

Looks like my reviews are becoming weekly rather than an every-other-day event. I’ll try to post more often, but you know how it goes.

Today I bring you back, once again, to the Asia of a past era. Specifically, Japan, set in the 1950s and onward to today. The book is The Commoner, by John Burnham Schwartz, and it is a fictional memoir of the empress of Japan, whose roots were little more than middle-class. It chronicles her unlikely marriage to the crown prince, her trials in adjusting to life within the imperial palace, and the struggles of her children as they grow up.

Schwartz writes with great care in this novel, mirroring the distance and coldness of the lifestyle of the imperial family in his writing. I have not read his previous novels, but I found the characters in this one to be quite inaccessible. I thought it was very fitting for many characters, particularly the empress who precedes Haruko, as well as other characters within the court such as the poisonous lady-in-waiting, Oshima. However, for a first-person perspective fictional memoir, I would have expected his main character to be a little more open to the audience and easier to relate to. Initially, I thought she would be, but throughout the book she remained as closed-off as the rest of the cast, which made it difficult to sympathize with her. I would have liked to have seen more openness not only with her, but also perhaps in her relationship with her driver, which spans nearly as many years as her marriage.

I was also struck by the lack of detail of daily life and court operations. Our main character repeatedly says that she has a very busy schedule, planned out to the minute by the court, but there is very little detail of what this actually entails on a day-to-day basis. Did she have no free time at all? What were all of these events? Only a few of them are actually described. I was also struck by the almost overwhelming despair and misery that is the tone of the novel. There is a flutter of excitement towards the beginning when Haruko first meets the crown prince and their interest in one another develops through a series of tennis matches and social events, but even that is downplayed and gives way to gloom. Perhaps it’s my own fault for thinking of Marie Antoinette- both the movie and the many novels and biographies I’ve read about her- while I was reading this book, but I find it difficult to believe that being crown princess and subsequently empress of Japan would be nothing but doom and gloom. I realize that the stifling atmosphere of the palace would make even the strongest people crack a little, and it is no wonder that she suffers a kind of nervous breakdown shortly after her entrance into court life. However, later in the book she looks over old photos of happy times with her husband and children at the beach- yet the audience is given no indication that she ever had any happy times at all after her marriage, despite the fact that she states that she and the crown prince broke old traditions several times for their own comfort. I know first-hand that Japan is a very conservative and restrictive society, and for those in the public eye, particularly constricting. But is there really and truly nothing enjoyable about being empress? Surely as a Japanese national she was somewhat aware of how the royal family lived before her marriage to the crown prince, and if this was the case, why would she agree to marry him knowing the kind of lifestyle she would enter into was so far from what she wanted out of life? Japanese society certainly wouldn’t allow her to be as extravagant as a figure like Marie Antoinette, but I really would like to know if there is nothing at all good about being a woman in the royal family of Japan.

The end of this novel- though I won’t completely spoil it- seems to be both what Haruko has desired for herself from the beginning of her marriage and at the same time completely out of character. She orchestrates a way for her daughter-in-law to escape the court, which is where this story breaks off completely from its factual basis. I can’t decide if this would be a likely course of events for an older empress who has seemingly resigned herself to the ways of the court long ago, but I think that is due to the fact that we are never really let in to Haruko’s heart, mind, or desires. Perhaps this is part of Schwartz’s tactic, in keeping with the “mystery” and closedness (sure it’s a word, I’m a linguist and would I lie? 😉 ) of Japanese society as a whole. I’m curious as to whether this book has been translated into Japanese and if so, what Japanese readers generally think of it.

Bottom line: lyrical, conflicting, and distant, like Japan itself. Worth borrowing from the library or reading in paperback.

Last night, I finally finished The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. It took be a little longer to finish this one than the others I’ve reviewed so far on this blog, mostly because I’ve been doing research and other things, like helping my great-aunt clean her gutters while the weather is nice! I love reading, but it’s hard to turn down the chance at some physical activity outdoors when the weather is so nice.

Anyway, despite the time it took, I really enjoyed this book. I’ll admit that sometimes when a book that is marketed towards adults has a teenage or pre-teen main character, I find it annoying and out of place, but somehow the 11-year-old protagonist in this one worked. I think mostly what made it work for me was the snappy writing and the fact that the main character is something of a genius. A book about more normal circumstances featuring a normal 11-year-old would have most likely bored me to tears, let’s be honest here. But Flavia de Luce, though at times wise beyond her years, had enough natural naivete that comes with that age to be just believable enough– for example, she thought it would be a great idea to escape her assailant using her older sister’s advice to “kick him in the Casanovas,” but then couldn’t go through with said plan because she didn’t understand where a man’s “Casanovas” were located. Love it! Some of the chemistry talk I found a little bit hard to swallow since I find it highly unlikely that an 11-year-old could teach herself how to do such complicated chemical equations. Some of it got a little too thick for me, reminding me of the torture that was Chemistry 121 during my freshman year of undergraduate studies, but it never dragged on for too long and there was plenty of action to counter the scientific babbling. And, even though it is a little hard for me to believe that such a person could exist, the way chemical reactions and notable chemists were described had an enthusiasm each and every time that really would belong to an 11-year-old; it was far too pure and energetic to come out of the mouth of an adult character.

I enjoyed the cast of characters and especially the interplay between Flavia and her two older sisters, which felt realistic despite the extraordinary circumstances of the plot. The characters also have the best, delightfully British names: Dogger, Mrs. Mullet, Miss Mountjoy, Ophelia, Mr. Twining (what is more British that “Twining”? I ask you.). But my favorite name by far was Horace Bonepenny. Doesn’t it just sound like the perfect name for a villain? Even the house itself had a very proper-sounding British name, Buckshaw. On a side note, why is it that Americans have something ingrained in their minds that makes them love British English? Deep down do we wish we were still under the rule of the crown? Unsolved mystery, but true enough in my experience.

I originally picked up this book when I was in the mystery section of the local library, picking up the next The Cat Who… book for my mom. I had seen this book before, and the title and cover intrigued me, so I thought I would give a mystery book a shot. Generally I bypass mystery novels in favor of historical fiction, classic literature or international fiction, but I think I need a broader repertoire, and that’s what I set out to do when I checked this out. The mystery aspect of the book was all right, but still not my favorite. I like to be taken along for a ride than try to outwit the characters and figure things out before they do– although I was able to do that a couple of times in this book, I didn’t solve the big question, nor did I even really try. Does that make me a lazy reader? Or do I just have a different reading style? I think that different readers get involved in books in different ways, and my style is more of escapism I think. For anyone out there reading this, I’d love to hear what your reading style is.

Bottom line: a fun, snappy read. Definitely worth your time.

P.S. Sorry no image this time, the insert image option doesn’t seem to want to work properly today. Next time!

Recently I started reading Fruit of the Lemon, which looked interesting, has a nice cover, etc., but for some reason I just wasn’t really feeling it. Then last week, I ventured into the Big City (as opposed to the 20,ooo population town I’m staying in for the time being) that has not just a library, but a whole network of libraries. This isn’t a new concept to me, don’t worry! But I’ve only been back in the USA for less than a month and before that spent months in a country where English books are harder to find than hen’s teeth. So it felt fresh and..dare I say, novel to me all over again. (Don’t shoot me, please.)

Anyhow, at one of the City’s libraries, I spent a good two and a half hours wandering around and picking books that struck my fancy. The one that hooked me most was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I’ve seen time and again on the bestseller table at B&N and other bookstores. I had picked it up before, but this time I guess it took. I promptly put down Fruit of the Lemon (with every intention of picking it up again someday) and started reading it in the library parking lot.

Now, as you can tell from most of my reviews, I am a pretty finicky reader. As a student of linguistics in grad school and of literature in undergrad, plus AP English lit in high school, I read with a pretty [overly] critical eye. But I also appreciate when writers step outside the box and dip into their creativity, which is exactly what the writers did here. The entire novel is told through a series of letters, mostly written by the main character, Juliet, and her publisher and new found friends on an island whose people she takes an interest in. I’m sure that many book bloggers have already read this one– I know I’m late on the uptake here, but I really loved this one! All of the characters are simultaneously quirky, three-dimensional, relatable, developed, and believable. Judging by the number of books I’ve read that lack characters who possess all these qualities, this is not an easy feat for a writer. I applaud the writers of this book for creating such a fun and realistic cast. The setting is equally intriguing: immediately after World War II. So many books are set within the time frame of the war or even the events leading up to it, but I’ve only found a few that address the confusion and grief that was left in its wake like this one does. The grim realities of the war and the subject of occupation are dealt with in a sensitive and very human way. This doesn’t mean that all horrific acts of the war are avoided, though– trust me, I flipped the page a couple of times because I couldn’t bear to read it. I suppose that’s my biggest downfall when reading: I have a soft heart and because of that I often miss bits of the plot because I can’t stand to read it.

I’m not going to spoil the story, but I practically cheered during the final pages. I wanted to give Juliet a high-five 🙂  And, given the events of the final pages, I thought it was fitting that the writers kept referencing Jane Austen. I also loved the humanity in the last third of the book. The characters dealt with very real emotions that exist even under the shade of war and rebuilding and recovering: jealousy, humor, compassion, all of them are there in the characters’ interactions despite the events that happened to all of them and that they are still struggling to deal with. It’s a wonderful representation of the human spirit and the resilience of people as a whole.

I think this book immediately found a nook in my heart to lodge itself in because I was reminded of my own experience of falling in love with an island. Now, I have never been through events as horrific as WWII (thank goodness), but I happened to discover a tiny island when I began researching endangered languages. Through my research, I contacted some people on the island and made many friends I still talk to. They opened their homes and hearts to me and graciously let me interview them. One older lady turned up unannounced at the guest house where I stayed during my visit last December, just to see if I wanted to go sight-seeing. Another let me stay in her home and, in addition to teaching me so much about the island and its language, told me to call her “mom.” This book brought those experiences back to me and made me remember that there are good people out there- the qualities these characters possess do not exist solely in these pages.

I look forward to reading more of the writers’ work. And to going back to my own island 🙂

Bottom line: Creative, engaging, entertaining, and it had special meaning to me. I loved it.

Last night, I finished The Butterflies of Grand Canyon, written by Margaret Erhart. I like butterflies (who doesn’t?) but I’m not an entomologist– not even close– so I think it’s strange that I’ve read two fiction books in the past few years about people obsessed with butterflies. The other was The Sound of Butterflies by Rachel King. Besides butterflies, the only thing the two seemed to have in common was that they were both very odd. I picked this one up at the library because it sounded like fun: the Grand Canyon in the 1950s, a decade-old murder mystery, and a cast of interesting characters. I’m not really a fan of mysteries, despite having read the entire Nancy Drew series as a kid (c’mon, didn’t everyone?). But lately I’ve been trying to expand my reading comfort zone and branch out a bit. Otherwise it’s going to be a long autumn and winter given the limited selection at the town library.

The story starts out interestingly enough, introducing the main characters and the murder that hangs over the small town. However, after a point, it feels like the story simply hangs in mid-air, with very little development or progression in either plot or character. It also felt like it jumped around quite a bit, with butterfly catching and long Latin names of species taking center stage for a good chunk of the time. The murder mystery, which I assumed would take center stage and bring the characters all together somehow, was really pushed to the background and not given the focus I thought it would.

Then, about halfway through, infidelity seems to be the name of the game. It seems that most of the characters are unfaithful either physically, emotionally, or both, and marriage doesn’t seem to be taken seriously. This wouldn’t be an issue for me except as the book nears its conclusion, it feels like more and more time is spent on discussing infidelity and why it’s OK and natural and people should let it happen. None of the characters in this book are particularly likable, and this attitude that they all take on this subject makes me dislike them further. Maybe I’m on my own here, and I’m not about to get in the pulpit and preach about fidelity and the sanctity of marriage, but I’ve been married for two and a half years and I believe I have a solid marriage. I believe that many marriages can last and the spouses in such marriages are not continuously thinking of cheating or still in love with a past flame. Sorry, Erhart. In fact, the final scene in the book has nothing to do with the murder mystery, but has everything to do with cheating on one’s spouse, which felt not only out of place, but ironically, unfaithful to the original premise of the story. The characters were not really tied together in some unbreakable way that I expected them to be, and as I read in another review of this book, the names of characters were a bit confusing: six of them have unusual names that begin with the letter E. Maybe I’m just a little slower than some readers, but I like characters’ names to be as distinctive as their personalities, unless similar naming is used as some sort of a device. Perhaps it is in this case and I missed it?

I admire Erhart’s attempt at switching the third-person perspective among characters with each (short) chapter, but this became a little muddling since she also jumped in time and skipped some events in the gap between perspectives. I think there are some interesting characters in this book- again, not likable, but interesting nonetheless. I’d like to see what sorts of things could be made of them in a more concise story.

The one thing that this book did well was to make me want to see the Grand Canyon. I’m a Southern girl at heart, and spent many years in Ohio as well, but I’ve never seen the southwestern states. After reading this, I think the Grand Canyon will be going on my “must-visit” list. Also after reading this, I think I want to try an honest-to-goodness mystery. There is one aisle of mystery novels at the town library, so if I expand my territory to that area, I’ll have that many more books to read. Right? 😉   So from now on I’m going to give the mystery section a fair shot, too, and not rush in and out when I’m picking up the next The Cat Who… book for my mom.

Bottom line: Not my favorite.

Where has ZZ Packer been all my life?

I picked up this book, like I do so many others, simply on a whim when I was roaming the limited shelves of the local library here. I’m a coffee fiend myself, so any book with the word “coffee” in the title draws me in. However, this is something of a departure for me because usually I’m not a huge fan of short story collections. There are exceptions- Ray Bradbury and Hemingway come to mind- but usually I’m more of a one-shot novel girl. I don’t even care much for series novels for the most part. But, as I mentioned before, the shelves at the local library are pretty limited in selection, so I knew I was going to have to branch out. And you know what? I’m really glad I did.

This collection was absolutely wonderful. This book has gotten some acclaim under categories like African American fiction and multicultural fiction and things like that, and does indeed deal with racism and civil rights issues and African Americans at different stages in their lives and at different points in the late 20th/early 21st centuries. Now, I am about as white as they come, but I understand racism very well, having lived in Asia twice. I understand the hate stares, the comments people make, the ignorant things they ask you or tell you, men having preconceived notions about your sexuality because of the color of your skin, and generally not being treated as a member of the same species. Those are the things that made me feel like I was drowning when I lived in Asia and why I will never live there again. I am thankful beyond words that I do not have to experience it on a daily basis anymore.

But the common thread that I found throughout the course of these stories was the feeling of alienation that so many of the characters experienced. Some of them felt it as a force that distanced them from their parents and families, some felt it separating them from classmates who were different in some way, and some felt it as a societal divider. Every story in this collection haunted me with that sense of alienation that I have felt many times in my own life, despite the fact that I am white and therefore privileged in my home culture. But the feelings of being different, a separateness from classmates for different beliefs or attitudes, struck me to the core because of how familiar it is in my own life. I also found the short story “Geese” particularly relevant since it features a main female character who goes to Tokyo to make some money and finds herself destitute and losing her sense of self. Luckily I wasn’t in as desperate a situation as that character, but I caught myself wide-eyed and nodding about some of the situations this character encountered in Japan.

These stories are beautifully written, the characters are three-dimensional and you feel as if you know them- even the ladies in the congregation of the Pentecostal church in “Every Tongue Shall Confess” seemed like ladies I knew, even though I’m not particularly religious and certainly don’t identify with the Pentecostals. Packer has a way of simultaneously drawing you in and shutting you out with the same separateness her characters experience.

Bottom line: absolutely wonderful. I look forward to reading anything else Packer decides to write.

It’s Friday! Are you excited? I am, but not because it’s Friday. I’m excited because yesterday, after swallowing my pride and putting my humility on a plate to be stabbed at will, I e-mailed the professor whom I worked for for two years and announced that I was back in the USA and I would be returning to grad school for spring semester. I wanted his advice on how to continue with my plan of study, which can take one of several different paths from this point. He offered to call me so we could talk about it and he could give me the lowdown about what’s currently going on in our field. And he also offered me my old job back! Before I went overseas late last spring, I had worked for him through a research assistantship funded by my university. As he has professor emeritus status and is a pretty big figure in our field, the university has been giving him a research assistant every year even though he’s been officially retired for over a decade. Retired from teaching, but he puts in more hours than a full-time job on his research and books and projects, and I suspect he will continue to do so until the end of his days. I hope I can be like that someday. Anyway, this year, the university has been forced to tighten its belt a notch further, and they’ve cut all assistantships in the department except for a handful of teaching spots for doctoral candidates, it seems. I thought the financial situation of universities was on the upswing, or should be, but evidently I was wrong. However, being fairly well-to-do and desperate to finish some projects I had been helping him with, he has offered me my old job back and will pay me out of his own pocket. He had mentioned this a few months ago as a possibility, but now it’s real and he’s allowing me to start even though I’m three states away, and he says I can keep it up indefinitely because of the volume of work he has. Needless to say, I am ecstatic! That was the best job I’ve ever had, I love the work, he’s fun to work for, and now I get to do it again. I feel like I’ve finally caught a bit of a break in an otherwise tumultuous year.  Also on the positive side of things, I have an interview later this afternoon for a tutoring position. I’ve let myself relax, if only a little, and start to search for places to live when I return to the South in December. What a relief.

Anyway, onward to the book of the day!

I tackled Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth this past week. This is one of the more modern classics I had been meaning to read for a while, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. Now, I had never read any Buck before, so I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew that Buck had been raised in China and spoke fluent Chinese, and I had heard her famous quote about, when told to write what she knew, she said she wrote about China because all she knew was China. I’ll say now, as I’ve said before, that I absolutely love historical fiction about China and other parts of Asia. But there are some striking differences between The Good Earth and other books I’ve read about China that take place around the same time period. If memory serves, I believe Lisa See has written a novel or two that take place around the time of the 1911 revolution or just after. Lisa See is a wonderful writer and her prose is so lyrical. I adore her books, even if some of them (Peony in Love) struck me as downright bizarre. I suppose I expected The Good Earth to have some of the same romanticism or even sentimentality that is often found in historical fiction. Maybe I expected this because Buck seemed to have such a close relationship with China in her youth, and nostalgia often comes forth shaded by romanticism. However, this book had a rather impersonal tone, with the events told very matter-of-factly. The main character, the farmer Wang, is, well, a wang. (Pardon the terrible juvenile pun, but really!) The modern girl in me read page after page in disgust at how he took on a second wife purely for sex, ignored his first wife, didn’t bother naming his children, was incredibly selfish, and did whatever the hell he felt like for most of the story. In contrast, the main female character O-lan must bend to his every whim and is presented several times as animalistic, with Wang comparing both her appearance and character to that of an ox. This isn’t terribly surprising given the time period and the culture of that time period: women were worthless and are still considered much lower on the social hierarchy in Confucian society (trust me, I just came back from Korea), and so it wasn’t shocking to see all women referred to as “slaves,” but as we say in the South, it stuck in my craw.

But back to the writing style. Even as much of a moron as Wang is, it felt like Buck had little sympathy or animosity towards him. Again, it was just very matter-of-fact. We sometimes get perspective into his thoughts, but only as a means to justify the actions he takes. The only section of the book that seemed to have any emotion attached to it was the part when O-lan dies. But even then, it is Wang’s guilty conscience, not sentimentality or anything else, that moves him.

I find it interesting that this is the novel that reportedly introduced Americans to China. I wonder what the reaction of the first Americans who read this book was? At that time, our country was post-WWI and in the throes of the Great Depression. Could they relate to Wang’s troubles? What did they think of the women in the novel? This subject is more intriguing to me than the novel itself. Another thing I’m wondering about is if Buck intended any symbolism in this book, or if it truly is as straightforward as I found it. I’d love to hear thoughts from anyone out there who has read this.

This book is the first in a trilogy, and I think I might try to tackle at least the second book eventually. Perhaps it will shed more light on some of the questions I have about the book. I’d like to see if the other two are written in the same impersonal style and if it continues into one long family saga.

Bottom line: I find this novel elusive on several levels. But I find China and its people and culture to be elusive as well.

I initially picked up Hot Springs by Geoffrey Becker because I thought it was going to be about the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. Oops! Turns out there’s another Hot Springs, located much further west. Anyhow, even after I solved the mystery of why the characters weren’t greeting each other with “ya’ll,” I stuck with it.

This book has a kinda-sorta wishy-washy ending, and that’s kinda-sorta how I felt about the whole thing. I enjoyed that Becker was creative with the characters and tackled a main character who is mentally ill. I liked that the book feels something like a road book and the story happens along a physical journey. I think that road stories are automatically set up for wondrous events to happen and lots of character development along the way. I saw a little bit of character development in the main character, Bernice, and her sort-of boyfriend Landis, but many of the other characters felt flat and unrealistic. In particular, the adoptive mother of Emily, whose name is Tessa. If she really cares about Emily so much, why didn’t she call the police? Especially since she’s a bible-thumper, wouldn’t that seem like the “right” thing to do? I get that she’s abused and in an unhappy marriage– which was revealed at an odd point and too late in the plot in my opinion– but I would think that the urge to do the “right” thing would overpower anything else, especially where a child is concerned, and especially when she knows the birth mother isn’t all there. This made her character seem unbelievable, as did her behavior towards the conclusion.

While I’m talking about things I had trouble believing, let’s talk about Bernice’s boyfriend Landis for a moment. I think he is one of the most believable characters in the book: he tries to go along with what his girlfriend wants, then has an epiphany and realizes she’s crazy and he could go to jail for it and bails, and subsequently feels guilt about it and wants her back so goes looking for her. I think that indecisiveness and weighing one’s conscience against other elements is very realistic. I liked his character, I really did. What I didn’t like was his dialogue. The way this guy spoke was so unrealistic, it drove me up the wall! Some of the things he said, if taken out of the context of situation and conversation, are virtually indistinguishable from things that Bernice would say. Characters need to have not only their own separate personalities, but also their own voices. That is my one major criticism of the book.

Some of the reviewers out there have issues with the ending of this book. True, it doesn’t have a solid conclusion that you can wrap your fingers around and set aside, but the characters in the book, as well as the plot, aren’t the type you can really wrap your brain around, either. So in that regard, I think the ending suits the book. I think it would be more difficult to swallow if the book had a “happily ever after” ending in which all of the characters somehow got exactly what they wanted and ended up satisfied. It just wouldn’t work in this book (or few places outside of a Disney movie).  All in all, not too bad.